Keep it Simpler

3 simple tips to prevent missing guest payments

Do you wonder sometimes if all guest payments are being remitted properly to your hotel? Could some payments be falling thru cracks? How do you make sure?

You don't need the most advanced systems and the most expensive accountants to ensure you are getting all the payments owed to you. Here are 3 simple tips you can do right away.

Let's take a look at the experience of The Conrad hotel (not their real name).

Melissa, the accounts officer for the hotel, sent another follow up to ExTrips. They are the popular online travel agency who has been sending many guests to the hotel. But ExTrips had rejected their recent request for payment. They said several entries were incorrect.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. The errors are happening every few months, but recently the amount had gone up significantly. And this prompted the hotel to take it more seriously.

A large part of the problem is the surprisingly manual process that ExTrips still require hotels to go through. They require an Excel spreadsheet to be prepared with a very specific format. A slight deviation might be enough to mark a guest as an error.

Sometimes a guest was rejected just because ExTrips wanted to remit them the following month. So seeing errors were not unusual with this travel agency.

What was unusual is the volume of errors for the past few months. It was easily 10x more than what they were seeing before.

Melissa soldiered on, and for what seemed like the hundredth time that month, laboriously dived into the Excel file again. But she still can't find the source of the errors.

1 - Generate an automatic list of guests per travel agency, per day.

Hotels usually receive payments from multiple sources. Including walk-ins, traditional travel agents, and lots of online travel agencies (OTA). This makes reconciling payments more difficult than a business who only has a few "entry-points" for collections.

To help this process, the hotel's property management system (PMS) should be able to automatically produce a list of all the guests who came from each source. If this process was done manually, it would take a much longer time, would be error-prone, and would not be as effective in preventing issues.

Different travel agencies have different payment schedules.

For example, some OTAs remit payments a day after the guest checks-in. Some after check-out. Some OTAs would group all guests by month, some do it one at a time.

The PMS should have the flexibility to handle all these variations.

This saves loads of time in admin work for each travel agency. It also arms the hotel with data that can spot anomalies quickly and reconcile supposed submission errors.

If your property still doesn't have a PMS, this is as good a reason as any to get one. The savings in time and prevention of missed collections are worth so much more than the cost of the system.

After the lists are generated, ensure that there is a verification process by another person. Best if you can do a daily check of the previous day's collections as a routine. This would make troubleshooting much easier instead of waiting until the end of the month. And we all know how hard it is to reconcile at that point. It's not something anybody looks forward to.

After a grueling investigation, Melissa finally uncovered what was going on. One problematic staff, let's call him Niro, was declaring walk-in guests as paid via ExTrip instead of cash. He knew it would take a while for the hotel to collect the payments from that OTA so the missing collections wouldn't be detected right away, if at all. He then presumably pocketed the cash.

It didn't help that ExTrip was rather vague with the errors. The mis-declared guests appeared like any other error that they were already encountering in the past.

Niro knew there's a lot of complexity and manual procedures to sort out. And by the time the hotel caught up, he had already resigned.

The Conrad Hotel could have easily prevented this situation if they had basic checks and balances in place.

2 - Indicate payment details in the guest registration form

The simple way to prevent fraud is to make it as tiresome as possible so that the risk & effort outweigh the potential rewards.

By clearly indicating how the payment was made, you invite the guest to help make sure that the payments are logged correctly. Granted, many guests would not bother to double check every detail, this would still embed a little more deterrence with an audit trail. Put together enough of these small checks and the potential fraudster would be motivated to look elsewhere.

This step should once again be done easily by the PMS with no extra manual processes needed. A good PMS can print the guest registration forms for you with all the necessary details. You can then use these guest registration forms as another document in your regular audits.

The PMS should also have a way to track the changes made to a booking and by who. This is a good deterrent, as just knowing that tracking is being done would cause the would-be perpetrator to think twice.

After apologizing to ExTrip (while secretly being irked all the more by the manual Excel submission process), Melissa poured thru the bookings handled by Niro. It was not the easiest to do, as the front desk shared email and user accounts like

It was very hard to trace which bookings he touched. Looks like they would just have to chalk this one up to lessons learned. She knew the hotel had lost that battle.

On the other hand, this incident triggered immediate action, and the hotel deployed a simple system to prevent it from happening again. As a side effect, they also saw a large increase in revenue because of other connectivity benefits from the PMS.

So in the end, they still came out on top. Take that, Niro.

3 - Use separate, individual user accounts

This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make from a security perspective. Yet it is not uncommon. Many hotels use a shared email account like or And that carries over to the systems they use, including the PMS.

This makes the hotel vulnerable in several ways:

  • The shared account might be written somewhere not secure (hopefully not a post-it by the front desk!).
  • There is no clear accountability on who uses that account. And if there is no clear owner, people get sloppy. They share the account haphazardly and make changes willy-nilly.
  • It's harder to enable recommended security features such as two-factor authentication.
  • It creates a disincentive against changing passwords periodically. Increasing your risk of security breaches. For shared emails, usually these are better handled by a helpdesk tool. These tools allow you to have a common mailbox but still keep individual user access. You can find tons of helpdesks in the internet, some are also free. We'll cover how to improve internet security for small hotels more in another post. For now, an excellent step to take is to make sure that every user in your property has their own user accounts. Specially the central place to monitor guest payments, the PMS.

In Summary

There are simple steps that you can take to help track guest payments across the different travel agencies.

These include automatically generating lists of payments by travel agency, showing payment details in the registration form, and requiring separate user accounts for better ownership and accountability.

You don't need to wait for extensive accounting protocols to be put in place (though that would be recommended too). A good, simple PMS should be able to help you with these right away.


Names were changed to protect privacy. The incident with The Conrad Hotel is an anecdotal case. I have not been able to independently verify across multiple sources.

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